Thursday, May 19, 2011

West Texas Nightlife with Roger and Dianne

Roger here....   The science teachers who taught in the building where I was a principal...and me, as a former science teacher...would be so proud of our fun the last couple of nights. 

 We know that our night life experiences should have taken place when we were in L.A.  Who knew that we would find night-time fun in the desolate vastness of West Texas!

Let's start with last night.  When we knew we would be able to renew our reservations at Davis Mountain State Park -- just outside of Ft. Davis, TX -- I went to the McDonald Observatory website and was able to score the last two spots for a night to remember.  At 6:30 p.m. Dianne and I entered the Starlight Cafe to join a group that would be touring the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith reflective telescope.  

The shadow clock (sundial) outside the reception area was cool.

Hmm!  5:45 p.m.  Early again.  My fault.  I thought the gift shop would be open.  I don't need another t-shirt anyway, but I would have liked one.

We took several shots of the telescopic domes while we waited for the others to arrive and the doors to open.

I counted seven telescopic domes.  There were probably more.

After a delicious Texas-style brisket dinner we adjourned to the auditorium where Judy, a museum docent,  did an excellent presentation of spectroscopy and its role in analyzing stars and 
planets.  Oh, to have had the advantage of gaseous vacuum tubes, bright lights, and spectroscopy filters when I was a science teacher.  Her explanations gave a clearer explanation to what the resident research astronomer would present.  

Paul Robertson, an astronomy doctoral student from the University of Texas, talked with us about the Kepler Project.  The Kepler Satellite is documenting, through spectroscopy, the presence of countless stars that have planets in their orbits -- many of them rocky planets with water that can support life.  I have always believed that we are not alone.  This research is amazingly convincing.  Do you remember Jodie Foster in Contact?

After the presentation, we got in our cars and traveled to the top of the mountain.  The sun was descending.

The multi-level dome protecting the Harlan J. Smith Telescope was imposing.

We walked seventy steps up into the observatory to see the largest telescope that the general public is allowed to observe.  

It gave me chills watching the dome revolve as the slot opened while, at the same time, the 160-ton telescope moved to the exact position for the viewing.  It was an otherworldly experience;  it felt like Star Wars.  

We saw real-time views of Saturn and its moons (no ability to take photos), followed by real-time (minus a multitude of light-years) photos of the M-3 star cluster.  I never imagined that I would get to experience this, first-hand.  Amazing.  

Speaking of otherworldly....  A couple of nights ago at twilight, while walking the dogs, Dianne said, "Let's drive to Marfa and see the lights."  I was weary and wanted to head for the couch, but WOW, am I glad we went.

Marfa is a small Texas town.  Its claims to fame are its beautiful court house (seen in the prior post), the site for the movie set of Giant starring James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor, and the infamous Marfa Lights.

The Marfa Lights...  Since the 1800s, white men and Native Americans have observed this unexplained phenomenon -- unexplained lights near the horizon viewed across the flat plains during the night.  According to rumor, they are visible about 10 percent of the time.

I must admit that I was skeptical.  I expected the two of us to be standing in the dark, alone, attempting to see something that was not there.  I was wrong.  When we arrived at approximately 9:30 p.m., other people at the viewing site pointed out the lights to us.  OMG. They were there.  They were not a hoax.  
They were evident and prominent in the sky.  Sometimes they were bright and stationary.  
Other times they were faint.  
Sometimes near the horizon; sometimes, slightly higher.  
Sometimes vertically above a previous sighting.  Sometimes horizontally to the right or the left.  Sometimes, popping in and out of view.  Sometimes fading in and out.  
They did not move in a line, just popped in and out of view.  
Sometimes alone.  
Sometimes with as many as four other lights. 

 I could not believe that I was actually seeing them, but there was no doubt, as others in the viewing area confirmed the same thing that I was seeing.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind came to mind.  Remember the scene of the fanatics standing outside, waiting for the spaceships to speed around the curve in the road?  We were the fanatics!

I wanted to hum the theme from Close Encounters, and should have.  People would have laughed.  But I didn't.  

I don't know what we saw, but I know that we saw it.  Wow!  Contact, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- three of my favorite movies all in just a couple of West Texas nights!

The pet picture of the day is entitled a cowboy and his dog.

1 comment:

Gin and Syl said...

That sounds like a different night on the town. More interesting than most I might add. Safe travels.